LibriVox recording of "The Flood" by Émile Zola. Read by R. S. Steinberg.
A well-to-do French farm family is destroyed by a flood. The story, thrilling to the very end, is told from the point of view of the family's 70-year-old patriarch. The story speaks of the helplessness of mankind in the face of the forces of nature. (Summary by Karen Merline)
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June 2, 2010 Subject:
"The Flood" (aka "L'Inondation") is a short story by Émile Zola published in 1880. It takes place in a rural village on the Garonne River near Toulouse revolving around an actual flooding incident there in 1875. Although not a religious story, it has some biblical imagery, beginning with the stories title. The main character is a 70 year old patriarch who sits down to a Last Supper of sorts with his family of 11 to give thanks for his many blessings. His daughter will soon to be married, and he plans to add another floor to the top of the house for the expanding brood. But after supper, the rains begin, and the nearby river overflows its banks. Like an Ark, the families wooden house provides shelter. But this is no ordinary flood; first the animals, then the servants are swept away, described in the type of realism Zola is renowned for. The family, moving heavenly upwards, eventually take refuge on the roof, watching the refuse of the land swept away and made smooth like the surface of a pond. One tragic incident after the next occurs bringing to mind the Raft of the Medusa, or a feeling like Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream."
It reminds me of a 19th century Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O'Connor for its bloodbath. In a few short pages he kills off an entire family of men, women and children in detail. This translation is poor, somewhat stilted, and would greatly benefit from a modern update, but still manages to move in the end.
R. S. Steinberg's reading is well done.
Note: a more recent translation is available by Helen Constantine in the story collection French Tales (Oxford UP, 2008).